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a moment changes everything

April 9, 2012

So, I’ve been tangled up in a million different threads this past week.  I only realized today that I’d missed my habitual Friday post.  What day is it again?

I’ve been reading The Moment, the previously mentioned gift from my dear friend, and I am enjoying it immensely.  Composed of brief pieces, The Moment’s contributors (an assortment including Dave Eggers, Judy Collins, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Ruth Gruber) capture instances of “opportunity, serendipity, calamity, or chaos” that have profoundly affected their lives.  It is fascinating.  I love it.  [It is also ideal if you share my penchant for reading multiple books at once — I can read an essay or three from The Moment, then dive seamlessly back into my novel du jour.]

As is always true of a good book, The Moment got me thinking about my own Moments; those flashes in my history that acutely and permanently shifted how I view the world.  There are a few, but the one on my mind this weekend was my Mortality Moment.

I was fifteen years old on a summer rock climbing outing.  Joined by a large group of girls and led by presumably trained guides, I laughed with my friends as we scampered up a huge rock formation, damp and red-faced in the Texas summer sun.

At one point I (characteristically) stopped paying attention to where I was walking, lost in a daydream.

“Anne!” One of my friends shouted my name just as I was about to step off the edge of a cliff, a sheer drop broken only by the jagged rocks far below.  I stepped back.  At the time, I laughed along with my friends when they called me “Mr. Magoo,” comparing me to the nearsighted cartoon character who obliviously escapes near-tragedy at every turn.  Not long after, though, I realized how close I’d come to falling off a cliff.

Strange as it sounds, I don’t think I’d ever appreciated my own mortality before.  I was privileged; my life free from danger, from illness, from hunger.  I trusted adults to keep me safe rather than relying on my own mettle.

That moment at the edge of the cliff, though, was the first lesson in what will be a lifelong education about my own vulnerability.  That moment taught me that I am not immune, that death waits for everyone — even daydreaming fifteen year-old girls with wide open futures.

That fall, I wrote an essay about the experience for my sophomore English class.  I wish I still had it, because the only thing I remember about the piece was the comment my teacher, Ms. Freeland, wrote in its margin: “See me after class.”  In the brief and uncomfortable post-class conversation I had with Ms. Freeland, it became clear that, instead of eloquently conveying the realization of my own mortality (as I had hoped it would), my essay spooked the teacher into guessing I was suicidal and looking for the nearest cliff from which to hurl myself.  This was an early lesson in perspective, I suppose, but fortunately I was able to convince kind Ms. Freeland that I was both mentally healthy and ill-equipped to write about my Mortality Moment.  I may still be the latter.  Regardless, I won’t forget that snapshot of sky and rock and sun for as long as I live.

What Moments will stay with you forever?

Enjoy one of my favorites, “A Moment Changes Everything,” by David Gray.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

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